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Headed to Acadia this summer? Changes are coming—here's what to know

Park visitor centers will reopen at limited capacity, the Island Explorer bus service will return and there's a fee to drive up Cadillac Mountain

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Acadia National Park’s famed Loop Road is back open for 2021, and just in time —people and their cars will begin surging back for peak season in a few weeks.

As summer visitors make their return, they may notice a few key differences in their park experience compared to 2020.

“There are some changes coming for this year,” said park spokesman Jay Elhard.

While COVID-19 precautions like mask-wearing and outdoor ranger help desks will be part of Acadia’s 2021 season, Elhard said that park visitor centers will reopen at limited capacity, providing an indoor space to buy park passes, visit a bookstore and seek other amenities.

“People will be able to use restrooms, talk to rangers at the regular desk,” he said.

The Island Explorer bus service will also return in 2021 on a limited route along with indoor service at the Jordan Pond House restaurant.

Another change will happen at campgrounds, which were closed entirely in 2020. This year, they are open at 50 percent capacity.

To prepare, people should book online as early as possible, because they will not be able to walk up to sites and, as with many Maine campgrounds this year, there is already a lot of demand for spots, Elhard said.

Something else that’s new this year: people will have to reserve a time and pay a $6 fee to drive up Cadillac Mountain.

“Folks will still be able to go and experience Cadillac Mountain, the only thing we’re asking them to do is make an online reservation in advance,” Elhard said.

The reservations will be required from May 26 to October 19.

This change is unrelated to COVID-19 and is part of a larger overhaul to ease traffic at one of the country’s 10 most-visited national parks.

“We’ve had an increased number of issues pertaining to congestion and visitor safety,” said Elhard, explaining that overcrowding in 2019 caused the Cadillac Summit Road to be closed 90 times.

While there will likely be hundreds fewer cars allowed on the mountain at one time, Elhard emphasized there will still be alternative ways for people to get up the mountain without a car, including the potential for taxi service.

He added that people planning trips to Acadia far in advance can seek out reservations that are released up to 90 days ahead of when people hope to drive up the mountain.

However, about 70% of the reservation times will be released about 48 hours ahead of when they are scheduled, and any availability found day-of can be reserved.

Asked what he would say to people who are upset about the Cadillac reservation system and used to not paying, Elhard said, “We’re hoping it ends up being a convenience for people.”